Saturday, July 4, 2009

Yvonne Ridley

Yvonne Ridley (born 1959, Stanley, County Durham, England) is a Britishjournalist and Respect Party politician best known for her capture by the TalibanIslam after release and her outspoken opposition to Zionism and the perceived propaganda of the Western media. Ridley currently works for Press TV, the Iranian-based English language news channel. and subsequent conversion to



[edit] Biography

British-born journalist Yvonne Ridley is well known in the Muslim world for her outspoken views and defence of Islam. She converted to Islam 30 months after making international headlines when she was captured by the Taleban on an undercover assignment in Afghanistan.

She was the chief reporter of the Sunday Express at the time, having spent nearly 10 years in Fleet Street working for several newspapers including The Sunday Times, The Observer, Daily Mirror and Independent on Sunday. Ridley set out as a regional journalist nearly 30 years ago in her native North East. She has also worked as a broadcaster, producer and presenter on programmes for BBC TV and radio, CNN, ITN and Carlton TV travelling to Afghanistan, Iraq and Israel. A founder member of Women in Journalism, she was also a promoter of women’s rights, and is also a founder member of the Stop The War Coalition and the RESPECT political party.

In her spare time Ridley travels throughout the UK and across the globe promoting peace and the anti-war message. She has also delivered lectures on issues relating to Iraq, Israel, Afghanistan, Chechnya, Kashmir and Uzbekistan, Women in Islam, the War on Terror and journalism at universities across the US, Australia, South Africa and the Middle East. Ridley is a founder member of the Friends of Islam, an All Party Parliamentary Group and Women in Journalism. In addition she is a member of the National Union of Journalists, the International federation of Journalists and the Society of Authors. She has written two books called "In The Hands of the Taleban" and "Ticket to Paradise" and is currently writing and researching for two other titles including a biography of Osama bin Laden. Ridley is a patron of the UK-based pressure groups Cage Prisoners and Hhugs. She also devotes much of her time to humanitarian work and charities.

[edit] Personal life

Ridley has married twice.[1] Her first husband was Daoud Zaaroura, a former Palestine Liberation Organization officer. Zaaroura was a PLO colonel when Ridley met him in Cyprus, where she was working on an assignment for the Newcastle-based Sunday Sun. They had one daughter called Daisy who was born in 1992.[2]

[edit] Capture by the Taliban, conversion to Islam after release

Yvonne Ridley came to prominence in September 2001 when she was captured by the Taliban in Afghanistan whilst working for the Sunday Express. Repeatedly refused an entrance visa, she decided to follow the example of BBC reporter John Simpson, who had crossed the border anonymously in a burqa. When she was discovered without passport or visa, she was held by the authorities for 11 days. One of her captors asked her to convert; she refused, but gave her word she would read the Qur'an after her release. She was impressed by the way she was dealt with during her stay in Taliban captivity. She explained that the Taliban looked after her very well. She said, "I was horrible to my captors. I spat at them and was rude and refused to eat. It wasn't until I was freed that I became interested in Islam."[3]

In freedom, she kept this promise, partly to find out why the Taliban treated women as they do. Reading the Qur'an she says she found no justification of the Taliban's actions, describing the holy book of Islam as a "magna carta for women" [4]. She converted to Islam in the summer of 2003, stating that her new faith has helped put behind her three broken marriages and a reputation as the "Patsy Stone of Fleet Street." BBC News has written that "[i]t has been suggested that [Ridley] is a victim of Stockholm syndrome, in which hostages take the side of the hostage-takers."[3] Ridley rejects this, however, saying "that at no time did anyone try to brainwash her."[5] When comparing her treatment to female prisoners' held in American custody, such as Aafia_Siddiqui, she said that in Taliban's custody she was given her full privacy as a woman, and was handed the key to the door of her cell to lock from the inside. [6] In 2004, she described her journey of faith for the BBC's religion site (see A Muslim in the Family.)

[edit] Subsequent career

Ridley's memoir detailing the 11 days she was held captive, In the Hands of the Taliban: Her Extraordinary Story. Ticket to Paradise (Dandelion Books, LLC 2003), a novel based on the backdrop of 9/11, was written before she converted to Islam; friends say it was never published in the UK because she was too embarrassed by its risque content.

2003 saw Yvonne Ridley employed by the Qatar-based media organization Al Jazeera, where, as a senior editor, she helped launch the English language version of their website. On 12 November of that year she was fired because Al Jazeera found her "overly-vocal and argumentative style" was incompatible with the station’s programme.[7] After her departure from Qatar, she published an article about her experiences there. She won her case for unfair dismissal against the organisation,[8] but was asked to return in May 2006 when it lodged an appeal against the Qatari court decision. Ridley won the appeal and the judge ordered her original award be doubled. However Al Jazeera once again lodged an appeal with the case going to the Supreme Court for a final hearing. She won that case through lawyers Gebran Majdalany in December 2007 and was awarded undisclosed damages.

Ridley was placed at the top of the Respect coalition's party list at the 2004 European Elections for the North East England region but was not elected. She stood as the Respect candidate at the Leicester South by-election in 2004. She came in fourth, with 12.7% of the vote. However, when she stood again in the May 2005 general election, her share of the vote dropped to 6.4%. In the local government elections in 2006 she unsuccessfully stood for a seat on Westminster Council.

She began presenting The Agenda With Yvonne Ridley, the Islam Channel's politics and current affairs show, in October 2005.[1] However, the show and Ridley were axed from the Saudi-funded channel after she refused to shake the hand of a Saudi prince at a post-Hajj feast[citation needed]. The channel blamed Ofcom for exerting pressure, which that organisation denies. According to several published reports, Saudi pressure was brought to bear upon the channel head over the hand-shaking incident. The Islam Channel maintains that Ridley "has not been sacked and is still working for us."[9] However in April 2008 Ridley won her case for unfair dismissal and sex discrimination against Mohamed Ali Harrath, the CEO of the Islam Channel as well as the channel. The full damning 30-page report was published on the website Harrys Place.

Ridley now works for Press TV, the Iranian English language 24-hour news channel, hosting many talk shows among them The Agenda [2] being the major one. She also writes a column for the New York-based Daily Muslims [3] and other publications. In May 2008, in an assignment by Press TV, she and the film-maker David Miller shot a documentary based on Guantanamo Bay after being given unprecedented access to the now defunct Camp X-Ray and the operational Camp Delta, by the US military which operates the naval base in Cuba where hundreds of men, defined as enemy combatants, have been detained since January 2002.

Since first August 2008, Yvonne Ridley has joined the Free Gaza Movement [4] in Cyprus as it heads for Gaza to challenge the Israeli siege. Press TV is following the progress of the movement and Yvonne Ridley, who will be on board with Indy film-maker Haq Nawaz, and is publishing her blogs to Press TV's website [5]. The SS Free Gaza and the SS Free Liberty both arrived without incident in Gaza on 23 August. During their brief stay Prime Minister Ismael Haniyeh gave a rare interview to Yvonne Ridley which was later broadcast on Press TV. As the free Gaza Movement activists departed four days later Gaza PM Haniyeh issued genuine Palestinian passports with diplomatic status to the majority describing them as Ambassadors for Palestine.

In November 2008 she and the young award-winning film maker and journalist Hassan al Banna Ghani headed for Afghanistan to produce a documentary about female prisoners being held by the US. In Search of Prisoner 650 is expected to be broadcast by Press TV in the spring of 2009. During the making of the film the two came under fire amid a clash between the Taliban and Afghan police on the road to Ghazni. The drama was filmed and is expected to be used in their film.

In March 2009 Ridley and George Galloway, RESPECT MP, founded the organisation Viva Palestina and took a convoy of more than 100 vehicles bearing aid across North Africa to Gaza via the Rafah border. Again teaming up with film-maker Ghani, Ridley is making a documentary about the 25-day journey called Three Uncles go to Gaza.

[edit] Her views

Her vocal support for causes involving Palestine, Iraq, Afghanistan, Kashmir, Chechnya and Uzbekistan have made her a popular speaker in anti-war circles. She described Israel as "that disgusting little watchdog of America that is festering in the Middle East" and further that her party, the Respect Party, "is a Zionist-free party ... if there was any Zionism in the Respect Party they would be hunted down and kicked out. We have no time for Zionists," while both the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats were "riddled with Zionists." [10][11]

At the "Muslimer i Dialog" conference in Copenhagen in September 2005, Ridley was asked if she didn't see it as a problem that militant Islamists distribute recruiting videos of Iraqi insurgents killing hostages. She replied that it was necessary for Muslims to have these videos at home as an alternative form of news to what she perceived as the propaganda of Western media. At the same meeting she compared British Prime Minister Tony Blair with Pol Pot. Since then Ridley has said that the Danish record and translation of her speech was incorrect. [12]Islamophobia and was given a standing ovation after urging Muslims not to "kneel before their enemies" or "kiss the hand that slaps them."[13] Along with former Australian Prime Minister Bob Hawke and several other speakers including scholars and politicians, the Copenhagen Declaration was formed and signed. She returned to Copenhagen in May 2006 to take part in a conference on

Critics have accused her of defending the late Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and his campaign of violence in Iraq and Jordan, describing the victims of the 9 November 2005 Amman bombings in Jordan, which saw 60 persons killed and 115 injured, as Iraqi collaborators, Saudi, Indonesian and Chinese intelligence officers and the upper echelons of society. The outpouring of public outrage manifested in spontaneous demonstration she described as staged and the work of "Jordanian troops out of uniform" and "government lackeys" together with "Christian and Muslim Bedouins" who had all been commandeered or paid to demonstrate by the Jordanian government and the CIA. Al-Zarqawi was denounced by his family after the bombings, a move that Ridley thought "cowardly." She said of al-Zarqawi himself that she would "rather put up with a brother like Abu Musab al-Zarqawi any day than have a traitor or sell-out for a father, son or grandfather" – a reference to Jordanian royal family. [14].

At a meeting of the Respect party on 6 June 2006, following a controversial police raid in Forest Gate, East London, on 2 June 2006, Ridley urged all Muslims in Britain to "boycott the police and refuse to co-operate with them in any way, shape or form until the boys are released," attacking Sami Yusuf including "asking the community copper for directions to passing the time of day with a beat officer." Her comments were labelled as "sheer, undiluted madness" by Shadow Home Secretary David Davis, who added that "To not co-operate would be of no benefit to the Muslim community; no benefit to the police; and no benefit to the security of our country." [15] But at the time George Galloway, leader of the RESPECT Coalition to which Ridley belongs also distanced himself from her comments, saying "Our policy is not that we should withdraw co-operation from the police."[16] The two men were subsequently released without charge and an official apology was later issued to the family by the Metropolitan Police Force.

After the Chechen rebel leader Shamil Basayev (accused of the Moscow theater hostage crisis and blamed for the Beslan school massacre) was killed, Ridley wrote an article referring to Basayev as a "shaheed", despite a noted Hadith of the Prophet Muhammad where the deaths of 'enemy' children were denounced, and that all children who have yet to reach maturity are considered to be on the natural path (Fitrah) in Islam. The article however does not state her views on who was responsible for the deaths since there has been contradictory accounts regarding those events, with Basayev writing in particular that the Beslan School Massacre was"a terrible tragedy" and, in reference to then President Vladamir Putin, "Kremlin vampire destroyed and injured 1,000 children and adults, giving the order to storm the school for the sake of his imperial ambitions and preserving his own throne". [17]. She went on to refer to Basayev as leader of "an admirable struggle to bring independence to Chechnya". [18]

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